Accept offer — or else

OPPENHEIM – The Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Board of Education is giving Superintendent Laura Lawrence until 5 p.m. today to decide whether to accept a settlement offer to step down or face civil charges, school officials said Thursday.

The school board voted Thursday to offer the settlement.

School officials refused to provide any details about the offer. They also refused to say what type of civil charges Lawrence could face if she refuses to accept the offer.

Lawrence is on paid administrative leave for reasons the school district has refused to reveal to the public. Lawrence continues to receive her salary of $110,500 a year while the district pays interim Superintendent Thomas Gallagher $500 per day.

According to a resolution read by board President Susanne Sammons, negotiations between the district and Lawrence have been unsuccessful, leading the school district to authorize its attorney to offer a settlement.

The board voted 6-1 on the resolution. Member Cindy Breh voted no.

A second resolution, passed 4-3, stated if Lawrence did not accept the offer by 5 p.m. today, the district will file charges against Lawrence in accordance with her contract.

Keith Handy, Lee Quackenbush and Renee Swartz voted against the resolution.

Board member William Lints and Sammons directed all questions to school district attorney Joseph DeTraglia, who said he could not discuss the offer or possible charges against Lawrence.

“The board is prepared to authorize charges, but no charges have been issued yet,” DeTraglia said.

He said the charges would be of a civil nature, not criminal.

“It is a personnel matter,” DeTraglia said.

According to Lawrence’s contract, it can be terminated at any time, without cause, by mutual agreement between the superintendent and the board or by the superintendent’s written resignation with 60 days’ notice. The superintendent also has the right to a fair hearing before an impartial hearing official if charges are filed against her.

Colleen Bartlett, a St. Johnsville resident, said at the school board meeting Thursday she is frustrated with the district.

“How is this helping the school district at all, if you’re dragging this out?” Bartlett said. “You should end this and go on with this supposed merger.”

She was referring to the recent merger between the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts.

Bartlett also said she wants to know the accusations against Lawrence.

“If she’s done something, say that she’s done something,” Bartlett said. “If you don’t have anything, leave her alone and let her get back to her job.”

On Nov. 16, the board voted 4-3 to have its attorneys negotiate with Lawrence.

Lawrence was named superintendent last May. Lawrence served as the St. Johnsville Central School superintendent from the beginning of the 2012-13 school year and as deputy superintendent before that. Before becoming superintendent, she was the principal at St. Johnsville’s elementary school for six years.

Former Superintendent Dan Russom retired from Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School after he was placed on leave.

Chris Fatta, Oppenheim-Ephratah’s former principal and former head of the D.H. Robbins Elementary School in St. Johnsville, also was placed on leave and then resigned.